The importance of asking questions

I love questions, I love being curious and I think you should too.

Here is the thing, you were born curious, we all were. But something happened throughout our life, specifically — while becoming adults, that made us lose our curiosity or let’s say — to dull it, to hide it deep in the lowest drawer.

All humans desire to know

While making some research here and there, listening to some podcasts about our life, our education system (no matter where you are in the world) as well as about our political systems, based on my observation, I came to a conclusion that we have 3 major periods in our lives:

The three major periods
  1. KIDS (~0–7 years old)
    The “Why why why why why” period
    As Aristotle said, we all desire to know. When we are born — we have no previous knowledge, no prior experience in anything, all we have is our curiosity. Now, how many of us get annoyed by kids who are asking all the time “why” about every single small tiny bit of a thing? Sure we do, it’s time consuming to explain everything (especially when you try to do it in a way that won’t trigger another batch of questions :D), but! As kids, asking questions is the only way we can get information. We don’t know much, we don’t even know how to read, so our only resource of getting some piece of information — is asking for it. Even more, our curiosity is seen as healthy development sign and it is being encouraged.
  2. TEENAGERS (~7–18 years old)
    “Too cool 4 school” period
    Now after being an awesome kid who is extremely curious and wishes to know all that there is in the world — this kid hits school. The first few grades are fine, let’s call it an adaptation period, but what happens after?
    What is the main thing we hear all over and over again in order to keep us coming back? “School is going to teach you everything you need in life”.
    Wait a second… School is going to give me all that? So… I don’t need to bother anymore and ask so many questions to become knowledgeable, this knowledge is just going to be given to me! Why would I bother asking questions? Even further — why would I want to be this nerd that asks too much and maybe triggers an extra exam in the teacher’s head, pfff I don’t want that.
    Apart from that — the system is about us memorising the information or the patterns in order to score high in the exams.
  3. ADULTS (~18+ years old)
    “Hello World” or “the WTF” period
    I have graduated from school, with high grades and now my life is going to be great as I know everything!
    Well. That crashes pretty fast. Life goes further than just going to the bakery and figuring out how much change you need to get back. Surely I know school taught us much more than that, but it also almost completely destroyed our natural habit of asking questions and being curious. Moreover — we stop questioning things. We don’t question religion, we don’t question politics, we don’t even question our own thoughts. We just obey. Now, it is not about your life visions, beliefs or thoughts, but it’s about your self-development. The second you stop asking yourself questions — you stop thinking.

So what now?
We need to be kids again. We need to ask as many questions as possible, without hesitating and thinking what others might think, because what is important is the ability to think, to discover and to be hungry.

Start asking questions!

Let’s take a basic example of where not asking questions can leads us to

Imagine a situation where you are given a task with your team. As usual, the documentation is not sufficient and cannot cover everything, but the end result is clear — you need to build a robot!

You and your team start working, each to their own, assuming what’s right and what needs to be done and, of course, knowing the best way it needs to be done. You or your colleagues are not asking each other questions, because, well… everything is obvious anyway.

Shortly comes the deadline or a milestone where you all need to see what you’ve been working on and combine it. But wait, you built the robot’s head, as well as any other colleague… So now you have 7 heads and no body? And they are all doing the same? Well…

While this is generalising the situation a lot, but you get the point, it can easily go wrong. And if only the team would have been asking each other and reaching out to each other — things would have been in a better place.

But then what stops us from asking questions?

Here again, my observation brought me to 3 main reasons:

  • EGO
    we are too proud
    We are too proud to be asking stupid, obvious questions. Once we let our ego define our actions and drive us — we are going to hit a dead end. This is our call to start finally understanding that ego brings us nowhere. It also nourishes insecurities.
  • INSECURITIES
    we are too shy
    We are too shy to be asking someone anything, as they might think something about us. Well, people tend to think about other people regardless of their actions. We are too afraid of failure, of judgment, of being laughed at that we stop interacting (but actually the more we do, the less we care).

Knowledge will not be learnt by the one who is too shy nor the one who is too proud”

  • WE DON’T KNOW HOW
    Really, we forgot how to do it!
    Okay, but now what? I’m ready to let go of my own image of myself and start asking questions for the sake of knowledge! Yeah! How do I do that?

Glad you asked!

Let’s get some background. Literally.

I have an Instagram account, where I advocate for women in STEM as well as for junior devs. This creates a natural environment where people that identify themselves as one of the above categories can approach me. Which was why I created that account in the first place.

But sometimes communication is hard, especially when I don’t know how to help or reply. There is this one question, that keeps on coming back. I’ve been getting it for a while now and learned how to handle it after a while, but at first I was struggling. I was trying to figure out the meaning behind it, what does the person who asks it means, what answer do they expect back? Can you guess what question it is?

It is a very simple one: “How do I code?”

https://bit.ly/2R90frL

At first I thought I was overthinking it, then I was assuming it can be a language barrier, but after several times or getting this exact same question, I realised that we simply don’t know how to ask them! I mean, what comes to your mind when you see this question? What is the person asking you about?

  • Do they mean how to find a direction that will suit them?
  • Do they mean which language should they choose?
  • Maybe they mean which text editor they should use for their code?
  • Or maybe they are asking for a code review?

The options can go on and on, but that is not the solution, because if someone needs to guess — it develops to be an assumption, and that doesn’t really lead us anywhere.

So what is the solution?

The one and only is to build your questions.

Build questions with a context, an issue and a direction.

In order to do that, you’ll need to following:

  • Context
  • Issue
  • Direction

Now, how would an “How do I code?” question transform into a constructive one by including all of the three points above? Easily!

“Hey, I’m new to coding and I’m feeling a bit lost and don’t know where to start, but I would really like to dive into this industry. Can you share your experience or useful resources that helped you when you started?”

How about that? See how easy it is? You just need to let go of whatever is keeping you from sharing this information (if your goal is to get a constructive answer).

Let’s see what we have in that question:

  • Context
    “… I’m new to coding and I want to dive into this industry …”
  • Issue
    “… I’m feeling lost and don’t know where to start…”
  • Direction
    “… can you share your experience or resources that helped you …”

By including all that information you are ensuring that you will get the answer you need, or at least you will make the person aware of what you want to get out of this communication, you will save yourself time and frustration of going back and forth and maybe even higher your chances of getting an answer/feedback at all.

Why is it important to ask questions?

First and foremost — you spend enough time on a question that you might even get the answer yourself.

Second — you learn how to communicate issues better, deeper and to the point.

Third — you see that everyone around you are humans as well, we all know some things and don’t know other ones.

Fourth — It saves us time from making assumptions and thinking that we know what we’re doing.

Last but definitely not least — with every question asked you can explore new topics or solutions you couldn’t even thought of. How cool is that?

Goals

Before you leave, I want to dare you to do three things. Get out of your comfort zone, or more likely — remember how it was to be in that natural environment of asking questions! So,

  • I dare you to be “annoying” and ask a lot of questions, just like a kid! It can be the most simple and obvious questions, but then what do you have to lose? Go for it!
  • I dare you to ask questions in public, in front of many people. Get comfortable with yourself, be confident, build it up!
  • I dare you to ask yourself a meaningful, deep question at least once a week.
    Because this is where it all starts. The more you will ask yourself, the more natural it will be to ask everyone else around.

And remember…

“Every question you don’t ask — is a knowledge you lose, but every question you ask — is a knowledge you gain”

… so which one will you choose?

Web Developer @eBay who is unapologetically breaking stereotypes and boundaries in tech while advocating for women and juniors

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